This is not a drill. Unless it’s a drill. But it isn’t. Probably.

by Paul Wells

So I had a chat today with somebody familiar with the thinking of the Prime Minister, and this person said this business of Stephen Harper preparing to call an election instead of waiting for the opposition is serious.

What follows has been reported by others in recent days, but I kind of needed to hear it myself before I’d believe it. I now believe it.

The prime minister has concluded that governing in the current environment is “like swimming in molasses,” I’m told. (Questions about why this would be the PM’s perception now when it wasn’t, as far as anybody was hearing, his perception the last time Parliament was actually sitting are perfectly valid.)

Stephen Harper has decided there’s no way the opposition parties will allow the government to stay there until October, 2009. So he figures he might as well cut all this short. To make sure his perception is accurate he is seeking meetings with the opposition leaders soon. (“We’re not talking weeks here.”) The goal: to see whether Harper can cobble together some deliverable legislative agenda that gets him to Christmas. Essentially he needs one opposition leader to promise, under mutually acceptable circumstances, to refrain from voting non-confidence.

Short of that, he will decide to ask the Governor General for dissolution and an election. (The fixed-election-date act begins by stating that nothing in the act detracts from the GG’s ability to dissolve Parliament at any moment. Which it would sort of have to, because anything that did try to detract from that ability would be unconstitutional on its face.) My very strong conviction is that, more than two and a half years having elapsed since the last election, the GG would have no basis to deny dissolution and an election.

The political cost of passing a doofus-brained fixed-election act and then abandoning it as soon as the going got a little rough would remain. I have no idea how to estimate that cost.

Once he decided elections were inevitable before Christmas, Harper would be inclined to call the election before the Commons reconvened in September — because, I was told, the opposition would later ask why he bothered to sit the House if he was just going to dissolve it soon after.

So there you have it. Unless one of the opposition leaders pulls a rabbit out of his hat during these meetings with Harper, we would seem to be heading toward an election writ drop within the next few weeks. I would not altogether rule out the idea that Harper would drop the writ before the Sept. 8 by-elections.

I hate election speculation when it detracts from coverage of real things. The odd weak moment aside, I have largely abstained from the last couple of rounds of election hysteria. But I am now planning, and encouraging my colleagues to plan, on the assumption that a general election campaign will begin in September.




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This is not a drill. Unless it’s a drill. But it isn’t. Probably.

  1. Dion would be foolish to give assurance of support. But Duceppe has an interesting decision to make, if recent reports of BQ electoral weakness in Quebec are to be believed.

  2. But wait. Of course the GG could refuse dissolution. She could simply say, “no, the fixed election act does not prohibit ME from dissolving Parliament, but it does prohibit YOU from even ASKING me.”

    I’m not so great at Canadian constitutional law (it’s enough to keep track of California and US law . . .) but the mind boggles that the GG could choose to do something that by statute isn’t permitted to happen. The executive is as bound by the laws of Canada as anyone else is.

  3. The only Opposition Leader who can reasonably come to an agreement with the Prime Minister is Gilles Duceppe. Stephane Dion would be beyond parody if he did so, and to a degree so would Jack Layton, given the merciless ribbing he has given the Liberals for their abstentions. One would think the Bloc would have a strong interest in playing for time, but you never know in political life. Remember that six Creditiste M.P.s willingly signed their own political death warrant by voting non-confidence in Joe Clark’s government in 1979.

  4. Great read Wells, but your title drives me nuts.

    “This is not a drill. Unless it’s a drill. But it isn’t. Probably.”

    Drill..errrrrr, as a fan of frank luntz the word “drill” should be “Explore”… Oh wait we are not talking about Oil…..

  5. I think the GG would have good reason to deny dissolution. This very Parliament, at the behest of the Prime Minister, instructed her not to, in legislation she herself put her signature to.

    So she’d have a basis, but under no circumstances do I expect her to use it. She was given this job to host cocktail parties, not be part of a constitutional struggle.

    But here’s what I don’t understand: Being defeated in Parliament is SO EASY. It comes with no political cost and can even be a benefit if the specific issue is chosen carefully enough. Why would the PM not do that?

  6. That’s quite funny, actually.

  7. Another thing complicating the BQ’s decision is the possibility of a Quebec election this fall. There are rumours to the effect that the PLQ – which has been in a minority situation for 18 month, doing well in the polls, and which doesn’t have to deal with a fixed election date law – will be sorely tempted to go to the polls.

    Neither the PQ nor the BQ are keen on a fall election. They may not be able to avoid one, but they seem to be in a position to decide which election they want to fight.

  8. Oh, I think the NDP will roll with Harper…on the enviroment.

    The NDP need to take the enviroment issue back from the libs, or take it off the electon map. And Harper’s plan is alot stronger then the green shaft. The NDP have a chance to make a move on this issue.

  9. Dean P: The GG can’t disolve Parliament without the advice of the PM. To do so would cause a constitutional crisis.

    Even if Harper were to lose a vote of non-confidence, he’d still have to ask the GG to disolve Parliament. It’s not an automatic thing.

  10. Oh, I think the NDP will roll with Harper…on the enviroment.

    The NDP need to take the enviroment issue back from the libs, or take it off the electon map. And Harper’s plan is alot stronger then the green shaft. The NDP have a chance to make a move on this issue.

    If the political optics of that weren’t so awful for the NDP, that would make a lot of sense. Compared to the Liberals (and the Greens), the only difference between the NDP and the CPC climate change plans is one of degree.

  11. “If the political optics of that weren’t so awful for the NDP, that would make a lot of sense. Compared to the Liberals (and the Greens), the only difference between the NDP and the CPC climate change plans is one of degree.”

    I agree the plans are close but the optics suck. But I just think if the Dippers where smart they would make a move.

    I think they could spin it.IMHO

  12. Or, maybe Harper’s just trying to spread that rumour so that the opposition will become indignant at him for thinking of violating his own law and go back to insisting that there be no election whatsoever. I still think it’s way, way more likely that he’ll choose to prorogue instead.

    Consider also the internal party factors. He doesn’t like Conservative Party conventions, and would probably like to see the one scheduled for November either preempted by an election or made into a relatively safe kind of infomercial. If the convention has to happen in a period of uncertainty, the CPC membership will be more likely to behave themselves and vote obediently, BUT the Liberals, the Globe and others will have a field day looking for signs of a dormant hidden agenda with which to bludgeon the government. Conversely, if the convention ends up being held after an election, the likely outcome of which will be either a CPC or a Liberal minority, the tory delegates will probably be far less docile and much more willing to rock the boat. Proroguing Parliament until after November 15th allows him to enjoy the best of both worlds i.e. a more disciplined response from rank and file tories combined with fewer opportunities for the Libs to exploit anything done or said there in the House.

  13. Mr. Inkless, how does this work into your previous claim that the Harperites view, that the longer Stephen Harper was Prime Minister the more comfortable Canadians would be with the “authoritarian streak” (courtesy of Lawrence Martin) of Mr. Harpers rule. Are the Conservatives worried? Or jazzed for an election?

  14. Oh, come on.

    You guys just aren’t creative enough.

    How does Harper get an election without violating the law?

    Simple: introduce a bill repealing the fixed dates law, and make it a confidence motion. :p

  15. Blues, they may have simply decided that everything has costs and benefits, and the cost of continuing outweigh the benefits. A million theories may be persuasive: getting out one step ahead of the Ethics Committee, for instance. For now I’m going to restrict myself to reporting what I’ve said, and saying that while I can pick at the logic in any number of ways, I now buy the central message, which is that Harper will call an election under most likely circumstances.

  16. oops. reporting what I’ve *heard*…

  17. So I had a chat today with somebody familiar with the thinking of the Prime Minister

    Do you mean Jane Taber?

    But I am now planning, and encouraging my colleagues to plan, on the assumption that a general election campaign will begin in September.

    Looks like an uncomfortable (for me) symbiotic relationship. But, wtf, I’m not in the book business. Gotta keep those sources well oiled.

  18. Paul, thanks.

    I didn’t realize that the Ethics Committee was that damaging. Interesting.

  19. My hunch is that it isn’t, Blues Clair, but I’ve heard speculation to that effect.

    Dot, Jane’s on vacation so my source was Jian Ghomeshi.

  20. Jane Taber? Now that’s a good one.

    somehow I don’t think so.

  21. My hunch is that it isn’t

    I didn’t think so either… but you had me thinking for second, that I should start taking Garth Turners blog more seriously… I like Mr. Turner, but that’s a depressing thought.

  22. Blues Chair,

    I don’t think the Ethics Committee is really that damaging. How the Tories are acting at the Ethics Committee is though, and more importantly still, how Conservative witnesses are AVOIDING the Ethics Committee (even in the face of summonses) is really pretty bad.

    Dot,

    Could you explain your “symbiotic” comment and your “oiling sources” comment. I’m not sure I understand what you meant. How is Wells “oiling his sources” by gearing up to cover a September election? Are you suggesting that somehow, politicians don’t expect journalists to cover the election (even though they really want them to) and that by gearing up to do so Mr. Wells and his colleagues are somehow doing the politicians a favour? Or are you suggesting that Mr. Wells’ sources are other journalists (which seems a weird thing to suggest) and that he’s inappropriately helping out his colleagues by expressing his opinion that they should all start getting ready to cover an election (like, he should be keeping that a secret from his journalistic competitors or something).

    I don’t know if I misread that comment of yours, or if it just went right over my head, but I didn’t get it at all. What’s the symbiotic relationship you’re talking about with reference to this post, and who’s wheels are Mr. Wells supposedly greasing (and why?)

  23. He’s just trying to prepare me for the possibility that I may be deprived of committees to cover for the foreseeable future. I remain, however, cheerfully in denial.

  24. Well, in defence of the Ethics Committee, the recent poll commissioned by the PCO had the Conservative Government’s accountability at “28 per cent positive and 42 per cent negative.” I was just thinking aloud that it wasn’t a fatal blow. And Miss O’Malley yer live blogging has been wonderful fun! Though, I do need to consider that I need to think about my lifes priorities a little more thoughtfully.

    cheers

    “do you think it’s easy to make priorities?!?”

  25. LKO,

    Well, a comment from the peanut gallery really, given that I’m not involved with politics nor live in Ottawa.

    It just seems to me that Paul’s “non Jane” source has an agenda, as does a good reporter.

    If in fact Harper plans to go against the spirit of his own legislation, what better way to prep the media (and yes, they do still count) and hence the electorate than leaking their plans to a noted popular and influential political writer (especially if he wears a different political suit).

    No, it’s not Chequers, or even Chinese Checkers, it’s Monopoly (I already used the Risk analogy elsewhere)

  26. I don’t disagree with Dot’s hunch.

  27. La Presse (<– Warning! Contains French!) seems to be in agreement with the pre-byelection election call. I just hope he doesn’t do it next week when I’m Outside The Queensway. (And no, that doesn’t count as speculation. I’m still clean.)

  28. What if Dion refuses to meet Harper, a conscientious abstention if you will? What then?

    Doesn’t the entire Muttartian strategy of pre-emptive election call kind of fall apart, especially if Dion demands (a) Harper’s fall legislative blueprint, and (b) fiscal update?

    I think this is a bluff. Harper is hoping that the pressure will bring out the Liberal fissures. ITQ/OTQ may be right on this one.

  29. Johnny–I get that. My point was the converse–that the GG could refuse it, citing the fixed election date act.

  30. Ryan (and Dean P),

    Re: I think the GG would have good reason to deny dissolution. This very Parliament, at the behest of the Prime Minister, instructed her not to, in legislation she herself put her signature to.

    The important point about the fixed election date legislation is that it EXPLICITLY DOESN’T do that. What’s the first clause of the “fixed election date” bill? “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor-General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor-General’s discretion”.

    As has been pointed out before (in the link above, and links from there) the most important thing to keep in mind about the “fixed election date” act is that it doesn’t fix the date of elections.

  31. Dean P: We’ve already seen what happens when a GG refused to dissolve Parliament and call an election: the King-Byng affair. Australia also has a good example of what happens when the GG tried to play politics. In both cases, the GG got smacked down, hard.

    No, I don’t imagine you’ll see Michaëlle Jean (or any successor) paying any attention to Bill C-16.

  32. Johnny, I hope you’re right. And Ms. Jean has not made any missteps so far. The slightly hairy variable is viceregal whim; didn’t Clarkson make some wild & crazy statement in her memoirs that she wanted to get back to a more James II-style system? I don’t have the book by me or I’d look it up. Something about not following Martin’s advice to dissolve Parliament in 2004?

    Anyway, I totally agree that it would provoke a constitutional crisis.

  33. Again, Johnny and Jack et al.

    The Governor General doesn’t need to “ignore” Bill C-16 in order to dissolve Parliament, as the very first sentence of Bill C-16 says that the GG can still dissolve Parliament at her discretion.

    Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.

    Again, the most important thing to keep in mind about the law that Parliament passed to fix election dates is that it doesn’t fix election dates.

  34. At least it would be a constitutional crisis about something other than Quebec. That would different, at least. Also, it would provide a new hobby for all those constitutional scholars, who have been languishing in dry docks (and the occasional Hill Times process piece) since the days of Meech and Charlottetown. (A few of the more hardy ones did get to come out and play at committee earlier this year, when this government went all passive aggressive on Senate reform.)

    Unfortunately, I think that even if she harboured the fantasy of becoming Byng to his King, the current GG would be forced to conclude that there is almost no chance that one of the other three leaders could reasonably claim the confidence of the House, since he would need both of the other parties on side; with even one voting with the Tories, he would be outnumbered. Darn tyrannical majority. I suppose she could give the opposition, collectively, a 24 hour deadline to work something out. Which they wouldn’t be able to do, of course but still – it would be fascinating to watch them try.

  35. I don’t know why Dion would want to go now, with a Liberal convention coming up in November. The way I see it, if he goes into the convention without having had his shot at a general election, he’s quite likely to survive on that basis. However, if Canadians go to the polls and the result is either status quo or something more in Harper’s favour, then Dion will face a very hostile convention – perhaps even a leadership review?

  36. Anon, if Dion were to end up with, say, 117 seats to 119 for the Conservatives, I suspect that might stave off an immediate challenge, depending on the timing of the convention – if, for instance, the campaign is still going in November, it could be postponed until the spring.

    A similarly open question, though, is whether Stephen Harper could survive as leader if he came back with a reduced minority.

    (Note: The above numbers were chosen at random, and should not be taken as an actual prediction.)

  37. How awesome would it be if we ended up with an actual draw? 118-118. oh, sigh.

  38. LKO –

    That’s what the text says, what does it mean? The GG’s “discretion” is poorly defined by text, but is surrounded by the mists of convention. By definition, conventions are typically not codified. If they were, they would be called soemthing else, like rules or laws.

    What are the conventions that limit, shape or direct the GG in these instances? Dissolving Parliament after a loss of a confidence measure would be one, but there is a notion that the GG would first explore the possibility that another coalition of parties could attempt governance. It’s not written anywhere, I presume it just developed as a logical extensin of the principles of responsible governemnt.

    So, what has changed? The law. The law basically says that there will be an election every 4th October starting in 2009. The only exception I can find is for loss of confidence. Can you think of any conventions or, since we have new law, which can logically affect the dynamics that dictate conventions, can you think of a logically consistent rationale for a PM to ask for dissolution that would be consistent with the text and spirit of the amended Elections Act?

  39. John G

    I asked that out loud on Kady’s cross post to this – are the other two opposition parties likely to help Dion to pull the plug when he decides he has the necessary winning conditions? For him to see those conditions, some of the support will have to come at the expense of the NDP and Bloc.

  40. LKO and Johnny Larusic are exactly right. The bill doesn’t change the ability for the GG to grant dissolution before the fixed date; and she would do that only at the PM’s request.

    There is zero chance that she will refuse dissolution and offer Dion a chance to govern, 2.5 years after the last election, with the next election less than 14 months away.

    I believe the whole purpose of the bill was to make the PM of the day pay a political price for trying to force an early election just because he can.

    If Harper decides to pull the plug on his own, then he has to be willing to pay that additional price he imposed on himself. To minimize that price it’s up to him to communicate to the Canadian public exactly why he feels it necessary to do so.

    I for one think it’s a dumb move. There is political capital to be had in forcing the opposition to vote down a popular confidence motion.

  41. Perhaps Layton thinks he can force Harper to throw him a bone just as Paul Martin threw one to Layton on the budget in 2005. If so, Layton’s dreaming in vivid technicolor.

  42. Brian,

    It’s possible, but for completely different reasons. Martin did so out of desperation. Harper may do so to try and improve Layton’s profile, since any increase in NDP vote comes at the expense of the Liberals.

  43. Things must be really bad for Harper to be willing to take such a risk by defying his own law and dissolving Parliament.

    I’m thinking that Harper thinks that it is more important to keep the image of a weak and cowardly Dion alive as the writ is dropped to continue to capitalize on the so-called strong leadership image he’s worked so hard to develop.

    To that end, he has to pull the plug himself.

  44. I can’t see any reason to ditch Harper regardless the results, short of say a complete obliteration by the Liberals. Who would take his place and would have any hope of doing better and be able to keep the “coalition” together? Without Harper that party would splinter right back to where they were four years ago!

    But more importantly, why isn’t Harper doing everything possible to remain Prime Minister through 2010 so that the Vancouver Olympics can tell us Canadians, and the world, what it is we are and stand for. I’ve been waiting 36 years for someone in power to do this for me.

  45. After viewing video of the confident, comfortable and logical Dion in the hour-plus town hall in Oakville the other night, I can only surmise that the herd-mentality media hacks are easily manipulated, moronic dupes who are completeely lacking in observation skills.

    What say you Wells? You’ve been casually mocking Dion for months. Doesn’t really match up with what we saw of Dion the other night. Getting the screws put to you by your new masters at Macleans?

  46. I tend to concentrate my attention to 3 bloggers here: Aaron, Kady and Paul. In the comments sections for each you find accusations of partisan leanings from all sides depending on whom they are lampooning/harpooning.

    If you spend any time here, Biffin et al, you will find that the quill and the spear are spared on no leader/politician.

    So stop being so sensitive to anything that offends your rrespective partisan hearts and enjoy the exchanges or bugger off.

  47. That’s right, Biffin. My new masters at Maclean’s are ideological brutes. Coyne runs the thumb screws and Steyn is a crack waterboarder. I used to think they were completeeely lacking in observation skills, but now I love Big Brother.

  48. I knew it! Thanks for the confirmation (and for aping my typo)…

  49. Nice, Paul.

  50. Ryan writes: “But here’s what I don’t understand: Being defeated in Parliament is SO EASY. It comes with no political cost and can even be a benefit if the specific issue is chosen carefully enough. Why would the PM not do that?”

    Umm, they’ve been trying that for the better part of a year now and the Libs keep abstaining.

    But if they want control of the process … couldn’t the Government tell Conservative backbenchers to vote against some sort of confidence vote? Simply declare some trivial vote to be a confidence vote (and I recognize the problem in that), see to it the Bloc and NDP are onside, and go forth.

  51. bk, that would be seen as even more cynical and manipulative of the process than Harper simply dropping the writ himself.

  52. Umm, they’ve been trying that for the better part of a year now and the Libs keep abstaining.

    Actually, if they’d really wanted to be defeated they’d have been defeated long ago. But they didn’t want to be. Look at each of the big confidence matters, like the budget: carefully crafted to allow the Liberals just enough wiggle room to swallow it and say well, it doesn’t suck too bad.

    If Harper had really wanted to be defeated, we’d have seen a poison pill, something the Liberals would never have been able to let through. But we didn’t. No one has actually wanted an election, they just wanted to say they wanted an election. And the Liberal abstainers have been letting them have their cake and eat it too, which is really the only thing to do with cake if you think about it.

  53. Somebody help me. Why does Harper think parliament is so dysfunctional? If he can pass the legislation he wants without any inconvenient noise from the Liberals, what’s the big deal?

    The only thing I can think of is that maybe there is some legislation he wants to pass that would be unpopular with the Liberals *and* the electorate, and he needs a majority to ensure the latter group doesn’t kick the Conservatives out while he gets on with passing that legislation.

    I tend to oversimplify things. Am I wrong?

    If they actually have conservative agenda, I’d hate to think it needs to be snuck in. Canadian voters are adults. If the government is going to do some serious cutting we should have some say in it. Maybe he has no confidence in his team’s ability to get a conservative message out in a rational and sensible way. Maybe his cabinet is full of religious nutbars lacking any understanding of economics. Maybe.

  54. Harper is a blundering, power-hungry freak of nature. For all the scandals, screw-ups and mis-steps, there are at least 5 percolating just under the surface. The in and out hearings, the Cadman affair, the food recall that highlights the Cons’ agenda…these will get more play as the days go by.

    Force an election and those are perhaps shelved for the moment or at least receive less attention.

    Add in the fact that it grates on mascara boy to no end that he doesn’t hold all the cards and wouldn’t be able to dictate the timing of an election without the idiocy of breaking his own law and it’s obvious why he’s choosing this path.

  55. Brad,

    I agree with what you’re saying about the notion of conventions being, well, conventions, but I also believe that the convention is basically that the GG does whatever the Prime Minister recommends. I’d say that’s pretty well established given that the GG has only refused a PM’s request to dissolve Parliament in order to invite another Party to form a government (the most controversial move by a GG in the history of the nation). ONCE in our history. And that one instance involved a government that had only been in power for mere months and was (it could be argued) only seeking to dissolve Parliament in order to avoid a motion of censure in Parliament; and, in that instance, the subsequent government formed by the main opposition was IMMEDIATELY defeated on a motion of confidence (so outraged were the other parties at what had just happened) which forced the GG to… dissolve Parliament. (And, of course, subsequent to all of this, the role of the GG was redefined to make the GG a representative of the Sovereign, not the British government, so controversial were the implications of the GG’s single refusal to follow the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister).

    So, as for following convention, I’d say it’s pretty well established that the “convention” is for the GG to do whatever the PM asks.

    Now as you say: “So, what has changed? The law. The law basically says that there will be an election every 4th October starting in 2009.” True. Except right before that the law basically says “nothing in this law changes the role of the Governor General”. When I read “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.” nowhere do I get the sense that the subsequent section COULD, let alone SHOULD have any effect whatsoever on the constitutional conventions surrounding the role of the GG.

    However, yes, I suppose the GG could decide to use the amended law as an excuse to refuse to dissolve Parliament in contravention of constitutional convention, despite the fact that the law explicitly states that nothing in it is meant to affect the powers of the Governor General. I mean, there’s a list of things as long as my arm that the GG could theoretically do, that no modern GG would ever even attempt. She could veto bills passed by Parliament. She could appoint anyone she wanted to the Senate, or the Supreme court of Canada. In theory (this one’s even more of a stretch) she could issue orders directly to our military.

    However, constitutional conventions constrain her, and I don’t see how any rational person could argue that a law that begins with the words Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General could even theoretically alter that.

  56. I must admit I am rather fond of “mascara boy” as an epithet. What could compare? Paunchy McVest? IcanTakeapunch Shakesdaughtershand?

  57. Biffin, I was hoping for something more intelligent than that. Didn’t you read the part about voters being adults?

  58. Personally I think that Harper has made a move that is known in chess as a pawn in passing! As there is nothing worse than near the end of summer an opposition leader getting a lot of press and you are only a few points ahead in the polls therefore you change the channel by proposing something just a little outrageous and that you know will change the channel allowing you to keep your opponents on their back feet and get everyone talking most especially if it something you know that the media and pundits will drive your opponents crazy with endless scenarios and questions keeping them off base and if I am correct it certainly seems to be working, of course you can’t make this move if your opponent was weak enough to allow you to at the beginning as this is a counter move.

  59. Biffin I am curious why you think food recall highlights Con agenda. With bureaucrats in charge of food safety it has taken them two months since the first death to maybe identify the source, they are not sure it’s Maple Lead yet, and we only heard about tainted food for the first time a couple of days ago. I think this incident outlines perfectly the incompetence of government to do anything right. It would be impossible for a private company to do worse.

    Steve W What legislation can Harper propose that would not turn off his supporters or all canadians but would be enough for Liberals to get a backbone. If the Liberals didn’t vote against the immigration bill which passed in the spring, they are clearly waiting until they think they can win election and everything else is irrelevant.

  60. Just an odd thought, but what happens if the election is called now. According to the very specific text of the bill “each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.”

    So. Say we go to the polls in November 2008. What happens come October 19th, 2009? Is another election mandated by this law?

    Could this be the scheme? He won’t break it by going to the GG early, because it says she’s not limited, but whoever gets elected after that has to have a second election in less than a year? Has their polling dropped enough that they think they’ll wind up giving the Liberal’s about a year of minority government.. just enough to take the hit for the troubles the economy is heading through.. and then dive back in?

  61. jwl: Please. You have zero proof that a private company would do any better, and wouldn’t just try to hide the problem.

  62. Fisher Cutbait

  63. “they are not sure it’s Maple Lead yet, and we only heard about tainted food for the first time a couple of days ago. I think this incident outlines perfectly the incompetence of government to do anything right. It would be impossible for a private company to do worse.”

    jwl, the reason why it took so long for the alarm bells to ring is because it takes that long for the symptoms to manifest themselves. You and I could have been infected as far back as end of June and we would only now be experiencing any malaise.

  64. Boudica

    An elderly women died in June from listeriosis, if that is not a symptom manifesting itself I don’t know what is. The elderly women could have got the disease sometime in April according to you so we could have possibly tainted food for sale for 4/5 months and we only heard about it a couple of days ago. That doesn’t make me feel better.

  65. jwl, why don’t you read up on this before commenting…

    “TIMELINE: Symptoms usually appear within two to 30 days, and up to 90 days after consuming contaminated food, according to Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Average incubation period is three weeks, says Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.”

    http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5g-bGDKdUG3u68Uo8JMs4Ni49vWDw

  66. Brad,

    As for this though: “can you think of a logically consistent rationale for a PM to ask for dissolution that would be consistent with the text and spirit of the amended Elections Act?” well, no, I can’t. On that point I agree. The Prime Minister asking for a dissolution of Parliament would be COMPLETELY against not only the spirit of the law, but the Prime Minister’s and his cabinet’s explicitly stated interpretation of the spirit of the law. I can’t see any way that the PM could ask for a dissolution of Parliament (without first losing a vote of confidence in the House) which would be remotely consistent with the government’s own explanation of the spirit of the fixed election dates law.

    However, (and it’s a big however) there’s absolutely nothing in the law that would prevent the PM from completely ignoring it’s spirit (as Marlene Jennings said of the change in the law, it’s “completely duplicitous in that it was sold as setting fixed election dates when in fact in reality it does nothing of the sort.

    So no, there’s no way the PM can dissolve Parliament that’s within the (government’s own interpretation of) the spirit of the law. However, the PM is legally bound by the LETTER of the law (and only “morally” bound by its spirit) and the GG is bound by constitutional convention. So if the PM decides to ignore the spirit of the law, there’s really nothing that can be done about that. That’s what’s so clever about the new law. It doesn’t actually change anything whatsoever, but it allowed the government to act as though they were making some big fundamental change.

    It’s a brilliant law right up to the point that the government proves that it doesn’t actually do anything.

  67. ” I can’t see any way that the PM could ask for a dissolution of Parliament (without first losing a vote of confidence in the House) which would be remotely consistent with the government’s own explanation of the spirit of the fixed election dates law.”

    Which bring us to the important question: why do it when the political cost is so obvious?

    No one with a brain buys into that whole “dysfunction” argument. The CPC’s own talking points contradict the Prime Minister. They are, after all, faced with a weak opposition and have a de fact government, right?

    Why would Harper do this?

  68. jwl,

    It’s a fine line between causing panic and accurately pinpointing where the outbreak is originating from. Shrieking “outbreak” before there are any details behind the warnings would hardly be wise.

    The leaked memo highlights the Con agenda. It almost sounds like a tired cliche but Harper keeps perpetuating it: the Cons are following the Bush neo-Cons’playbook.

    Anyone who has read “Fast Food Nation” will recognize the similarities between the changes made in the U.S. regarding food safety during the Reagan years and accelerated by Bush and what the Cons want to do.

    Wells: More so than not rolling off the tongue, it’s probably not accurate. I now realize Harper’s choice in cosmetics is probably eye-liner and not mascara.

    As for “Paunchy McVest,” going after Harper’s wife is even lower than I would stoop.

  69. Boudica

    How does your link prove what I wrote is wrong?

    From a story in today’s Globe:

    “Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health confirmed the first death was that of an elderly woman in Hamilton, who died in June of listeriosis as a result of eating food contaminated by Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne bacterium that can cause serious illness in pregnant women and the elderly.”

    The woman died in June and the contamination period means that she could have eaten the bad meat sometime in April/May and we are only hearing about this now. CFIA has known there was a problem since June and they have still not yet conclusively found the source of contamination.

  70. jwl, I don’t want to continue with the off-topic but there are some basic epidemiology practices that are hard to accomplish with a single subject, let alone a dead one. With such a long gestation period, working from patient zero all the way back to its source takes a long while.

    Your argument that a private company would have done a better job is based on nothing more than your ideology.

    If anything, a private corp would find itself in an inevitable conflict of interest between the public good and their shareholder’s wallets.

    While I have to believe that most companies would do the right thing, history shows that too many wouldn’t.

  71. The GGs power to dissolve parliament isn’t exercised by convention but through the constitution itself (s. 50). A federal statute purporting to affect his/her authority in that regard has no effect.

    The only question of convention is whether the GG may ignore the wishes of the prime minister. Both sides have been argued. (I believe it would not violate convention, and that if a convention exists it is merely that the power must be exercised only in the most extreme circumstances). it is incredibly unlikely that a GG would enforce a statute fixing election dates over the direction of a prime minister advising her to the contrary.

  72. T. Thwim,

    I think your point illustrates nicely how the PM dissolving Parliament would violate the spirit of the law (and almost the letter) since the law EXPLICITLY states that “the first general election after this section comes into force [will be] held on Monday, October 19, 2009″. So, being that if the PM dissolves Parliament before then the first election after that section coming into force would NOT happen on Monday October 19th, 2009, that shows pretty clearly that such a dissolution of Parliament violates the spirit of the law.

    However, as odd as it is, when you ask this “So. Say we go to the polls in November 2008. What happens come October 19th, 2009? Is another election mandated by this law?” you’ve missed something. The act does say “each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009“. So if you focus on what I have in bold, then it’s clear that an earlier dissolution of Parliament would invalidate the law’s (explicitly) stated intention that the first election following the passage of the bill be held on October 19th, 2009, short of thhe loss of a vote of confidence (which makes one think there MUST, in any circumstance, be an election on October 19th, 2009, since that date is explicitly mentioned). However, the law also states that it’s the FIRST election following the passage of the bill that is to be held on October 19th, 2009. If the PM decides to ignore the spirit of his own law, then the FIRST election after the passage of the bill would NOT, in fact, occur on October 19th, 2009. However, the law does not explicitly state a date for the SECOND election following the passage of the bill, so once the first post-amendment election happens, the October 19th, 2009 date becomes totally irrelevant. Which is passing strange given that the date is explicitly mentioned in the bill, but that’s the case nonetheless I believe. The problem, I think, is that the Tories put an explicit fixed date for the next election in the law, never once thinking the opposition might actually let them govern until that date. And now, they’re not so sure they want to govern until that date, but if they want to avoid it they have to violate the spirit of their own law (or force a loss on a vote of confidence)!

    Of course, the larger point is that the beginning of subsection 2 (where that explicit date is laid out) says that the entire subsection – everything surrounding that date – is “Subject to subsection (1)”. And, as I think I’ve explained, “Subsection 1″ basically (though more subtly) says “feel free to ignore everything else in this section of the law, since it is constitutionally meaningless tripe”.

  73. “We’ve already seen what happens when a GG refused to dissolve Parliament and call an election: the King-Byng affair.”

    I think the difference there is that Byng could not point to a statute “fixing election dates”. However Jean is hobbled by being unelected.

    There would be a stronger case were the position of Head of State elected for her to exercise personal discretion and call for an alternative government to be formed if a PM insisted on resigning in the face of a refusal to dissolve.

    Certainly I think a HoS would be on solid ground to observe that to dissolve a parliament made dysfunctional by the PM’s minions would be rewarding bad behaviour.

    Andrew Potter’s post on this is dumb. S.4.1 doesn’t FIX parliamentary lengths, it CAPS them. Hardly the same thing.

  74. LKO –

    Just back from lunch – nice sauteed sole with a chilled glass of chablis perfection on the Quay. It’s a beautiful, day, isn’t it?

    Your responses are generally sound. Depressing, but sound.

  75. Boudica,

    You ask, given that in order to force an election the PM would have to blatantly ignore the spirit of his own, highly trumpeted, “fixed election dates” law “Why do it when the political cost is so obvious? The answer I suppose is, are we sure the “political costs” are obvious?

    I do think it would be pretty bad for the government to ignore the spirit of a law they trumpeted loudly as a great reform to the functioning of democracy in Canada. It can’t be good to have everyone see that a law you pretended was important is actually completely meaningless hogwash, and that opposition MPs were totally justified in calling the whole process of passing the law “completely duplicitous”.

    The question remains however whether being “completely duplicitous” and passing laws that purport to do one thing, while in reality they do nothing of the sort, would actually lead to a “political cost”. I think an argument could be made that Canadians are entirely comfortable with governments that are duplicitous, and who openly and repeatedly tell us that the laws they pass do things that they clearly don’t do. Now true, prior to the current Parliament it had been a while since it was last a CONSERVATIVE government that was lying right to our faces and pretending to do things they weren’t really doing (and pretending NOT to do things they really were, it should be added) so that’s relatively novel, but I’m not sure Canadians are shocked by it, or ready to enact a price for it.

    I could have told you years ago that the Tories would be no different from the Liberals once they were in power; that they’d lie right to our faces and not even blink, and that the only difference might be a question of scale, given that it had been a while since the Tories had been in a position to spectacularly fail to live up to our best hopes, so being out of practice, it might take them a while to get used to being in power, and to figure out how to let us down. To me, the fact that they’ve lived up to my expectations and are as disappointing as any other government has been is actually almost more comforting than disappointing. It’s nice to have one’s expectations met, even if you expect the worst.

    Or am I just too jaded?

    As I said, perhaps blatantly violating the spirit of a law you not only wrote and passed, but trumpeted as a great advance for the nation – thus proving definitively that said law was never anything more than empty, meaningless, constitutionally moot rhetoric – SHOULD entail a political cost at the polls. But I’m not remotely convinced that it will.

  76. Why now? Ethics committee, contracting economy promising stagflation, mounting Afghanistan set backs and exhaustive analysis when the 100th soldier dies there, a Green Shift platform which Dion does not possess the linguistic grace to explain to the thicker of English Canadians. Prospects aren’t better in the next year and a half.

  77. “Prospects aren’t better in the next year and a half.”

    But when you are tied in the polls nationally to your competition, does it make sense to begin your campaign by handing them such a loaded gun to use against you?

    Or could it be that the CPC really does think that Canadians will believe their parliamentary gridlock nonsense?

  78. Mark:

    Andrew Potter’s post on this is dumb. S.4.1 doesn’t FIX parliamentary lengths, it CAPS them. Hardly the same thing.

    Well, in Andrew’s defence, I believe the point he was making was that the statute “fixing election dates” doesn’t fix election dates either. It simply purports to cap them at an earlier point. More importantly, it doesn’t actually even cap them at all, it merely suggests that they should theoretically be capped, while studiously and explicitly pointing out that as merely a federal statute it does nothing to change the constitution, thus making it entirely moot. The important part of Potter’s post is not “the Constitution already fixes election dates” (on which point you could, I suppose, argue that it doesn’t “fix” them, so much as “cap” them – though I think that’s largely a silly and semantically unimportant distinction in this context). The important point of Andrew’s post is that the “fixed election date” statute doesn’t fix election dates. Leave aside whether or not you agree that we all ready HAVE “fixed election dates”. The important point is that the statute purporting to fix election dates, doesn’t.

    You state that Byng couldn’t “point to a statute ‘fixing election dates’”, but I’d argue that neither can Jean. Not REALLY. After all, she’d be pointing to a statute who’s first eleven words are “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General. Given that, how is Jean in any different a position than Byng? Parliament could pass a law asking the GG to directly rule over us all for all eternity as an omnipotent God-Queen. If the first subsection of that law stated “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General”, it would be just as meaningless.

  79. boudica:

    The CPC has been characterizing Dion as weak due to his sit-on-hands stance in confidence matters. I wasn’t sure for a while, but it looks like Dion may have judged correctly in assuming that the details of how the conservatives have remained in power are a little too distant for the average, non-political voter (unlike most of us on this blog) to care about.

    On the other hand, Dion coming out and saying “Mr. Harper doesn’t control when the election is, I do,” cuts right to the quick of the meme Harper’s been trying to build for the last 2.5 years. And it’s been getting media-play.

    One thing Harper likes to be is in control. You see it in everything from his governing style to his relationships with his kids. So having it appear in the public that he’s out of control may in fact simply put a desparate personal need to reclaim that controlling territory. If that means hurting his own party’s chances in the doing, well, that’s the way it goes.

    Probably one of the reasons why any governing party really shouldn’t sublimate itself to such complete domination by a single person. Everybody has issues, and if the opposition happens to find one of those, the entire group can suffer.

  80. This is exactly why some people (like me) think that supposed electoral reform is a sham. No politician would ever really give up the power to do something that they believe is in the best interests of the country (which means the best interests of getting themselves elected). The next evidence will be when a majority government delays an election because “the people aren’t ready for it” or some such nonsense that involves a recession.

  81. “One thing Harper likes to be is in control. You see it in everything from his governing style to his relationships with his kids. So having it appear in the public that he’s out of control may in fact simply put a desparate personal need to reclaim that controlling territory. If that means hurting his own party’s chances in the doing, well, that’s the way it goes.”

    T. Twhim, I have to agree with that but what doesn’t fit for me is that Harper is many things but stupid isn’t on the list. If Wells and others are to believe, Harper won’t even wait for Parliament to resume before going to the GG to claim gridlock as justification for dissolving Parliament.

    To do this would put the CPC on the defensive from the very beginning of the campaign because the Bloc and the LPC will tear into them on that very issue. This is likely to set the tone for the race.

    Why take such a risk? Perhaps I’ve overrestimated the man’s intelligence.

  82. While Jean is not tied by the statute, that doesn’t mean she can’t CHOOSE to take it seriously… with that discretion thing.

  83. Hey guys how about the GG asking the oposition to form the government and dump the Conservatives.

  84. J.Cherniak says….

    “This is exactly why some people (like me) think that supposed electoral reform is a sham”

    Well then, why did people “like you”(liberals), help pass this law?

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